Updated November 30, 2018
What’s more magical than Halloween Time at Disneyland? I dare say Holidays at Disneyland.
Imagine the already understood magic of the park with gingerbread smells piped in, amazing decor everywhere and holiday music playing.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
In this article
- Discounted Tickets & Things You Need to Know
- An Overview
- How to Ensure You Ride Every Attraction With a Wait Time of 20 Minutes or Less
- My Ideal Day for You at Disneyland
- My Ideal Day for you at California Adventure
- Holiday Food
- Festival of Holidays
- Candy Canes
- Special Events
- Santa Claus
- Breakfast with Santa
- World of Color
- A Christmas Fantasy Parade
- Candlelight Procession
- Disneyland Resort Hotels
- TV Specials
- New Years Eve
- Annual Passholder Corner
- Downtown Disney
- My Suggestions
Discounted Tickets & Things You Need to Know
- Get Away Today always has discounted tickets and the best service. For details on what’s currently available, check this link.
- The entire Holiday 2018 merchandise collection arrived at World of Disney on October 19, 2018. Take a tour with me to see everything for purchase this season.
Find me on Facebook for more updates as they are released.
From November 9, 2018 until January 6, 2019, the park transforms. Beautiful holiday decor adorns every part of the park possible. A 60 foot Christmas tree compliments Main Street with 70,000 lights and 2,000 custom made ornaments. A 50 foot Christmas tree sits on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure.
Disneyland Resort is open 365 days a year, so count on a Christmas visit if you wish, but know the parks will be super crowded.
Both parks have tree lighting ceremonies at around 5pm every day. Carolers walk the parks with hand bells, singing classic tunes, while the trees come to life. It’s a fun event to see if you’re close by.
As always, check the entertainment schedule prior to visiting for specifics on each day’s events and times for Holidays at Disneyland.
How to Ensure You Ride Every Attraction With a Wait Time of 20 Minutes or Less
Arrive an hour prior to opening and follow my strategies detailed in this post for the most efficient way to move through the park during this busy season:
Note: The only attraction exempt from the “20 minute guarantee” is Peter Pan’s Flight. But, I provide recommendations on when to enjoy that attraction in the post linked, above.
My Ideal Day for You at Disneyland
To be sure you get to enjoy lots of attractions and see all of the limited time holiday happenings, follow this plan:
Arrive an hour prior to park opening and follow one of my strategies in this post.
Doing so will allow you to get LOTS of attractions done prior to the afternoon, at which point I recommend you take a break from the parks. Go back to your hotel to rest, nap, swim, etc. Then, return to the park to follow this plan:
+Grab a spot between 2:45pm and 3:00pm anywhere in Town Square to watch the 3:30pm parade.
+After the parade ends, stick around for the flag retreat ceremony just after. That’s usually around 4:30pm. (The 3:30pm parade starts near it’s a small world and takes a bit to make its way to the front of the park, where you will be if you follow this plan.)
+At 5:00pm, the Disneyland Christmas tree is lit. Watch it from Main Street, between the Emporium and the Magic Shop.
+After the tree lighting is finished, walk down Main, veer right at the hub and walk down the path toward the Matterhorn. Pass the Matterhorn on your right and head toward it’s a small world. The first holiday lighting for this attraction happens at 5:15pm each day. You only have 10 minutes to make it there, so no tomfoolery. Focus!
So, from 3:30pm – 5:30pm, you get to see 4 awesome experiences. What’s left for limited time holiday events? The castle lighting (called “winter enchantment” on the Disneyland entertainment schedule), fireworks and snow. Castle lightings are at 7:30pm and 8:30pm. There is no need to camp out for these lightings. Arrive 15 minutes early and grab a spot near the castle so you have a good view of the lighting and snow fall after. Find more info on snow here.
Let’s review the line up:
3:30pm – Christmas Fantasy Parade
4:30pm – Flag Retreat Ceremony
5:00pm – Christmas Tree Lighting
5:15pm – it’s a small world Holiday Lighting
7:30pm/8:30pm – Sleeping Beauty Castle Lighting (with snow)
9:30pm – Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks (with snow)
A few notes:
+Town Square is the section at the front of the park between the Main Street Railroad Station and Main Street. If you arrive early enough to grab your spot, see what’s available on the platform near the actual train station entrance. That area gives you a great view since you’ll be looking down to see the parade.
+The Flag Retreat Ceremony isn’t holiday-related, but I encourage you to watch it. It’s so touching and honors our military beautifully. I think it’s a great thing for adults and kids, both, to witness.
+Only have one day and need to include Fantasmic! in your plan? No problem. The strategies I shared above include a stop to grab a FASTPASS for this show. If you follow one of those plans, you should pull a FASTPASS for the earlier Fantasmic!, which runs at 9:00am. See this show and then stay right where you are for the fireworks show. It will snow in this area after fireworks. I share all about Fantasmic!, with info on dining packages and how to use a FASTPASS for reserved viewing, in this post.
+Most days include the times I detailed above, but some might differ. Please check the entertainment schedule prior to your day. You can find this online at this link or printed on the entertainment guide that you can pick up on your way into the parks. They’re located next to the maps. The free Disneyland App also has the guide. Locate it in the drop down menu on the main page. If you don’t have the app downloaded already, be sure you do before your visit. You can find it at this link.
+After this block of events, grab a FASTPASS (if you’re not already selecting them via MaxPass during your break and while watching the entertainment) and enjoy dinner. Then, refocus on attractions. Catch a castle lighting at 7:30pm or 8:30pm. Watch fireworks at 9:30pm. You can watch fireworks from in front of the castle, Main Street, near it’s a small world, or by the Rivers of America. All of those locations include snow at the end of the show. My favorite place to watch fireworks is from it’s a small world. It’s typically less crowded than the other options and I love seeing the projections on the it’s a small world facade. Arrive 30 minutes prior to the show to grab a spot. Don’t fuss with sitting down or camping out too early. You can watch standing up. Kids will want to jump around during the snowfall, anyway.
My Ideal Day for you at California Adventure
California Adventure includes a simpler plan that what you’ll find at Disneyland.
As with any day, arrive an hour prior to park opening and follow one of my strategies in this post.
This will allow you to complete ALL attractions by early afternoon. Once you’re finished, return to your hotel room to rest, nap, swim, etc. Then, head back to DCA early evening to see the Christmas tree lighting, enjoy the Festival of Holidays, visit Santa Claus, repeat favorite attractions, and to see more holiday entertainment.
The Christmas Tree lighting is at 4:55pm each day, similar to Disneyland. No need to arrive super early for this. Walk up just a few minutes prior and make sure you have a view of the tree. It’s located at the end of Buena Vista Street, in front of Elias & Company.
After the tree lighting, head to Grizzly Peak to see Santa at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. I much prefer my kids see Santa here rather than Disneyland, as the set up is entirely magical. Santa is at DCA from 8:30am to 6:30pm. Go here after the tree lighting so you don’t risk missing him. I share more on Santa here.
I also recommend you make time for the Feliz Navidad Street Party. This typically takes place at the following times each day:
With what I suggested above – about focusing on attractions, breaking at your hotel and then returning early evening, I would plan on the 7:30pm Viva Navidad Street Party. Arrive 20 minutes early to grab a spot for viewing. This is located in the Paradise Gardens area of the park, which is past Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, on your way toward Goofy’s Sky School. While you’re in this part of the park, walk through Paradise Gardens to see more holiday fun.
Before and/or after all of the above, Enjoy Festival of Holidays. I absolutely love this recent addition to California Adventure. I share all about it here.
Let’s review the line up for your afternoon/evening at DCA:
- 4:55pm – Christmas Tree Lighting
- 5:10pm – See Santa Claus
- 6:30pm – Viva Navidad Street Party
- Festival of Holidays (food, entertainment, etc)
Note: Most days include the times I detailed above, but some might differ. Please check the entertainment schedule prior to your day. You can find this online at this link or printed on the entertainment guide that you can pick up on your way into the parks. These guides are located next to the maps. The free Disneyland App also has the guide. Locate it in the drop down menu on the main page. If you don’t have the app downloaded already, be sure you do before your visit. You can find it at this link.
Two attractions are completely redesigned for the holidays. They’re limited time. Check them out:
it’s a small world holiday – Hear the iconic song from the original ride along with a holiday medley, as this ride transforms into a holiday treat. The outside is as amazing as the inside. Every 15 minutes, a holiday projection show will light up the exterior of the attraction for a short show, just lasting a few moments. It’s a site to see. Don’t miss it.
Haunted Mansion Holiday – Jack Skellington and friends celebrate Halloween and Christmas all wrapped into one. Don’t miss the gingerbread house in the main parlor and be sure to notice the fresh baked smells, too.
It snows three times most evenings at Disneyland. (Please check the entertainment schedule each day for confirmation on these times, as they seem to keep changing this year.)
Those times are:
- 7:30pm – for the first official Sleeping Beauty Castle lighting (lights will dim just before)
- 8:30pm – for the second castle lighting (lights will dim just before)
- After fireworks
For the first two events (at the castle lightings), you’ll find snow only near the castle.
For the snow after fireworks, you’ll find it at the castle, near it’s a small world, on Main Street and near the Rivers of America. All four of these areas are recommended for viewing fireworks, as projections will accompany the show along with snow falling at the end.
Note: I recommend – at any time of the year – watching fireworks as soon as possible during your Disneyland visit. The show sometimes gets cancelled due to high winds, so don’t save watching fireworks for your last night there.
New this year- Snow will fall occasionally throughout Grizzly Peak in California Adventure!
The holiday treats around the park are divine!
Go here to review Disneyland’s official foodie guide.
And here is Disneyland’s official candy guide.
I have listed a few spots in the parks not to miss:
Holiday themed Beignets – Find these at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square. They’re Mickey Shaped and totally worth the calories. You’re going to walk 10 miles during a day’s visit anyway. Indulge! 2018 includes Candy Cane flavor.
Jolly Holiday Bakery – The Jolly Holiday Bakery is always one of my favorite stops for dining in general, but their sweet treats during the holidays, including gingerbread men, are so delicious. Be sure to stop there for a bite to eat.
DCA is hosting the biggest party of holiday food this year – Festival of Holidays – with booths set up along the parade route. Check out all of the 2018 menus for each booth before arriving. I’ll be trying some during my weekly visits, too. Follow me on Facebook to see those.
New Year’s Eve Dinner (2017) is hosted at Paradise Pier’s PCH Grill.
Festival of Holidays
This part of the Holidays at Disneyland celebration lasts through January 8, 2019 instead of January 6, 2019 like everything else.
It includes entertainment, food, drinks and more all derived from the many holidays from around the world celebrated during this time of year.
Don’t miss all the delicious food and drink temptations available. This link shares 2018 menus for booths throughout the park.
***2018 dates are here!
People line up at each candy shop at park opening to receive a special wrist band entitling them to a single candy cane.
Take a look at my full candy cane post everything you need to know.
Disney Viva Navidad (featuring Three Kings Day Celebration) – At California Adventure, Latino music, dance lessons, festivities, delicious food and more make this part of DCA a ton of fun.
Festival of Holidays – This fun event that started in 2016 is returning and I love it! Enjoy cultural food dishes, celebrate holidays from around the world, see exciting entertainment, shop for goodies and more.
Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour – For $85, enjoy a tour through the park while learning information on holiday celebrations from years past, ride holiday attractions, see a parade and enjoy yummy treats. Note: I enjoyed this tour in 2016 and was told this year’s version is similar. Check out my full review.
There are two options to meet Santa at the Disneyland Resort between November 9, 2018 and December 24, 2018. Both visits are free and should have PhotoPass photographers on site to take your picture professionally, in addition to snapping a photo with your phone or camera if you wish.
From 12.26.2018 – 1.1.2019, you can see Santa Goofy in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area in DCA instead of Santa Claus.
I’m a huge fan of PhotoPass+ and encourage you to read up on what it offers because the images taken with Santa will be available with your others if you purchase the pass. If you do not purchase PhotoPass+, you can still use the (free) PhotoPass card to purchase a print out of your image at the Main Street Photo Supply Company in Disneyland. Or, simply purchase MaxPass to get all of the images from this encounter and everything else throughout your visit. All PhotoPass privileges are included in your $10 a day MaxPass purchase.
You can see Santa in Disneyland in Critter Country at a sweet country setting, as you were able to in previous years. The line is typically longer here than your other option, but the pictures are cute.
Santa at DCA can be found in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. This set up far exceeded my expectations. You can see Santa here, find other characters photo ops, play Elf Games throughout the trail, sign Santa’s Nice List and more. I recommend this option over Disneyland.
Find lots more on Santa at DCA from my 2017 visit at this link.
Disneyland Santa is a cute, country style. His park times aren’t always posted, so check the entertainment schedule before you visit.
This year, you should be able to visit with Tigger and a friend, then Winnie the Pooh, and finally Santa in the cute trail found at the back of Critter Country.
Santa makes special appearances at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, too.
From November 16, 2018 until December 24, 2018, find him at:
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel: Crystal Cove Foyer
- Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa: Great Hall
- Disneyland Hotel: near the Grand Ballroom
Santa meets guests from around 4:30pm to 8:30pm, with small breaks throughout. The Santa meet ups at the DLR Hotels are open to everyone. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel. PhotoPass+ photographers are typically on site, so don’t forget to take advantage if you bought a package.
Times will increase mid-December to see more children before Santa heads back to the North Pole.
Carolers also walk the lobby of the Grand Californian singing traditional holiday songs from around 4:30pm to 8:30pm. Love them!
Check out what Santa looks like in each location.
The Disneyland Hotel – perfectly retro, just like the hotel:
(That’s not Santa. That’s my dopey friend, Tyler. Santa hadn’t arrived when we visited.)
The Patina Group (who owns Catal, Uva, Naples and Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney) hosts the most darling breakfast each year with Santa.
I encourage you to take a look at what all is included in it and book soon if you’re interested. This event sells out quickly.
Visit this post for all the details.
World of Color
***I’ll keep you updated on the return of this show and if it’s added to the 2018 schedule. Currently, it’s under a long refurbishment with no return date yet for 2018.
World of Color – Season of Light is always a popular show that brings a holiday twist with so much to see.
Be sure to read up on FASTPASSES and how you can get one to secure a spot in the reserved viewing area.
The show, according to Disney, will entertain you by “celebrating the warm and heartfelt spirit of the holidays. ‘World of Color – Season of Light’ will take guests through a sparkling winter fantasy, combining classic holiday songs with memorable moments from treasured Disney animated films to create an experience filled with magic.”
A Christmas Fantasy Parade
A Christmas Fantasy Parade – This is one of my absolute favorite parts of Holidays at Disneyland. The skating reindeer! The snowmen! The gingerbread men! I could write an entire post on how great this parade is. Do. Not. Miss. It.
It runs at 3:30pm and 6:00pm most days.
For the first time, in 2018, the Plaza Inn will be hosting a dining package that coordinates with this beloved parade. This package is replacing the one designed for the Pixar Play Parade. Other than a tweak in the menu, everything should work the same. I am a big fan of dining packages, so I’m excited about this fun addition. Check out all about this dining package in this post.
My favorite place to watch this parade is from Town Square, which is the section at the front of the park between the Main Street Railroad Station and Main Street.
I recommend watching the first parade (around 3:30pm each day) if possible with the following plan:
Grab a spot between 2:45pm and 3:00pm anywhere in Town Square. Then, stick around for the flag retreat ceremony just after the parade ends. That’s usually around 4:15pm. And, finally, at 5:00pm, the tree lighting occurs nearby, too, at the beginning of Main Street. So, from 3:30pm – 5:00pm, you get to see 3 important events all from one great vantage point.
Believe…….in Holiday Magic Fireworks is a big hit with guests and features traditional Christmas music.
I share all about fireworks at Disneyland with tips on where to watch in this post.
Candlelight Procession will happen December 1 and 2 in 2018. These are beautiful shows held at the Disneyland Train Station in Town Square and is invite-only with only a few spots left for those willing to camp out HOURS prior – if not the day before – to be part of it.
Disneyland is also very hush-hush about how all of this comes together, who is invited and how to become part of it. Check out this link for more info from the OC Register.
I recommend avoiding the front of the park during these two nights, as the likelihood of getting a seat isn’t good. If you want to try to catch a glimpse of the show, be prepared to circle the area with other guests as directed by cast members to keep the area safe and secure.
Disneyland Resort Hotels
The Disneyland Resort Hotels are lovely during the holiday season.
Each the three Disneyland Resort Hotels is decked out in holiday decor and if you have the time, I recommend walking over to browse each.
You can find lovely photo ops, gingerbread houses and more.
For holiday themed Disney shows, go to this link.
You’ll find who is featured for 2018 and when to watch!
Visit this link to see everything in stock for the 2018 holiday season.
Go here to find the current purchase-with-purchase bag that arrived for the 2018 season mid-October.
On September 15, 2018, Disney opened reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at the Disneyland Hotel.
Book your meal at this link.
New Years Eve
New Year’s Eve is crazy, crowded fun. Be ready to brave the crowds and bring plenty of patience.
At Disneyland, you can find the following:
At California Adventure, you can find the following:
My suggestions –
Start at DCA, an hour prior to official park opening, and follow this plan to get the key rides done there and then move over to Disneyland by around 11:00am. NYE is always a risk for the park closing for capacity, so if you want to end the day there, you will likely need to tough through the mid-day crowds I typically suggest you avoid.
There are two fireworks shows that evening, weather permitting. Do NOT destroy your day saving a spot for these shows. First, cast members won’t allow guests camping out all day for shows now, so you’ll be asked to keep moving if you try to set up. Second, each of these shows is only 5 minutes long. Fantasy in the Sky is the first fireworks show that ever played at Disneyland in 1958. It’s a cute show, but it’s brief. I recommend you watch them from wherever you are in the parks rather than setting up for them.
If you do want to set up and save a spot for one of the shows, I recommend the area near it’s a small world, as it’s less hectic than Main Street and near the castle. The earliest you can save a spot is typically 3 hours prior to showtime. Cast members will be out ready to answer questions during this time. The fireworks at Disneyland occur at 9:00pm and 11:55pm.
If you prefer California Adventure for the end of your day, head over to Paradise Pier for one of three countdowns on the water. They occur at 9:00pm, 10:15pm, and 11:45pm.
Annual Passholder Corner
Check out what’s new this year for Disneyland Resort APs at this link.
Downtown Disney, which is already filled with plenty to do, turns into a fun place to visit during the holiday season. There are holiday decorations throughout and each restaurant has decor, too. This link shares four ideas direct from Disney on what you shouldn’t miss.
Catal, located in Downtown Disney, hosts a darling Breakfast with Santa I mentioned earlier with limited availability. Check out all the details and book soon! I’ll be at the first breakfast this year with my family and will share tons of photos from our visit.
- Do not miss Cars Land. The decor here is so amazing and I’ve heard first hand from Disney execs that it’s one of their most celebrated creations ever. Pay close attention to the garland as you walk in. It’s all fantastic. Santa Mater can also be found just outside the Cozy Cone Motel.
- See the tree lighting each day in each park around 5pm.
- See the castle lighting with snow each night at 6:00pm, 7:30pm and then again with fireworks. Ask a cast member to confirm times for your visit, as sometimes these vary.
- See a brief, 3 minute projection show, at it’s a small world every 15 minutes and until close, starting at 5:15pm each evening.
- Choose Santa at California Adventure over Disneyland for both design and less wait time.
- Absolutely do not miss the Christmas parade. Make time for this and schedule your day around it. Grab the entertainment guide on your way in at the turn stiles, so you know how to plan. Choose the late afternoon parade for less sun, as it’s usually quite bright during the earlier parade.
- If you have to choose one holiday treat to indulge in, I recommend the beignets at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square.
- Slow down and enjoy the entire park as a whole. We often get so busy at Disneyland that we miss the details. I try to take at least 30 minutes during a visit to grab a coffee, walk around, take pictures, and soak up all that I would have missed otherwise while corralling children. Start early each day and arrive an hour prior to official park opening. Follow one of my strategies to get LOTS done in the first few hours. Then, take a break in the afterhoon and relax. There’s so much to see. Enjoy!